The Sage of Ribbonfarm #1

Sage 1

(Ribbonfarm is insanely proud to debut a weekly comic panel, inspired by R. K. Laxman’s style. You can contribute your own 1-panel gag ideas through the contact form. The only rule is that the gag must be generally about research and innovation, and that the black-curly-haired guy must be in every scene. Describe the visual and punchline in your suggestion).

Against Clouds

I don’t usually look to Slate for technology analysis, but I thought I’d blog this as an instance of Nicholas Carr’s ‘Big Switch’ arguments starting to percolate into, and find reactions in, non-techie media (though the author is a credible techie).
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I think there’s a market for free, Web-based apps that offer basic features. Knock yourselves out, dilettantes. For me, it’ll be years before Photoshop Express can become powerful enough to replace my desktop version, or before Google Docs gets me to uninstall Microsoft Office. I’m not sure I want to. One of the nice things about Word and Photoshop is that once I fire them up and start working, I can forget all about the Internet for a few hours. Sometimes, my PC and I just want to be alone.

  blog it

The NAE’s Grand Challenges vs. Mine

The US National Academy of Engineers recently released a list of ‘Grand Challenges.’ As you’ve no doubt noticed, this sort of top-down driving of research agendas has picked up pace recently. You also have the new X-prize for a 100mpg car, following on the heels of the one which Burt Rutan won for commercial space flight. A bunch of other X-prizes have also come into being. Google joined the fray with its Lunar X-prize. Consider also the DARPA Grand Challenges. Then of course, there are the Clay Millenium problems in mathematics. Something bothers me about this top-down agenda setting for research, and formal competition as a way to drive innovation. Let’s poke at it by comparing the NAE’s list with mine.

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The Founding Fathers of Technology

I want to propose to you a powerful way of looking at technology. The plural form of the word, technologies, is becoming meaningless. There is only one globe-spanning beast, comprising vast systems of engineering design, production and operations, held together by a web of standards, and a central nervous system called ‘the Internet’ (ever wonder why we use the definite article?) This beast is what answers to the singular noun ‘technology.’ I started exploring this idea in a comic book format recently, in my story Mousetrap 2.0. With Nicholas Carr’s Big Switch, the idea seems set for the big time. In this post I want to introduce you to four of my favorite scientist-engineers, who conceived and enabled the creation of this beast in the short span of 50 years between the end of World War II and the turn of the century. Reading from left to right below, these are: Claude Shannon, Vannevar Bush, Norbert Wiener and Herbert Simon.

shannon.jpg bush.jpgwiener.jpgsimon.jpg

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Roundup: Jan 17 – March 20

Since mid-January, we’ve had 16 new new articles. There were 4 articles relating to books, 4 relating to technology,  4 relating to business and economics, and 4 on thinking and philosophy. Here is a grouped list of each of the 16 new posts. But first, some interesting quick highlights.
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Trollope, Fitzgerald and Holmes for the Generalist’s Soul

I think I must be a generalist by default, because I am not stand-out good at anything in particular. Generalists cannot live forever on left-handed ‘renaissance man’ compliments, so we must become good at collecting pieces of validation about our attitude towards life (and our resistance towards specialization). Three quotes have anchored my views on being a generalist. I thought I’d share them.

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Book Review and Summary: Strategic Intuition

There are certain books that invite a certain mischievous kind of self-referential review. Strategic Intuition is about that key insight which organizes a mass of simmering raw information-input into an elegant decision about a course of action. So the moment I got the book’s theme, the first question that popped into my mind was: does this book contain the strategic intuition about strategic intuition? The answer is no, but this is still a pretty thought-provoking addition to the popular literature on decision-making, and a useful step towards the definitive treatment.

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How to Pick Business and Self-Improvement Books

After a couple of decades of yo-yo-ing between Stuart Smalley-like solemn earnestness and Dilbertish disdain towards all self-improvement literature and business books (two genres with very similar conventions, intellectual cultures and authorial intentions), I think I’ve developed a pretty good system for picking out the winners and weeding out the losers. Here’s my algorithm, with some fun examples of both good and bad.

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2007 Review, 2008 Preview

This entry is part 1 of 15 in the series Annual Roundups

I launched ribbonfarm on July 4, 2007, which means it’s 6 months old as of the New Year. Here is a comprehensive review, with a full list of articles to-date, as well as selected highlights, including guesstimates of the “most popular” and “least popular” articles, and thoughts on what I am likely to write about in 2008. I hope you take this opportunity to look at some of the pieces you may have missed (especially those who came in late). I have a request — please forward this heavy-duty review post to your colleagues, friends and family, with specific recommendations on the articles you personally enjoyed. I am hoping to snare a lot of new readers with this review.

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Personal Brands, Identity and Perception Management

A friend recently made an abstract remark along the lines of “there is no reality, only perceptions, and life is about managing perceptions.” A common enough sentiment, admitting layers of interpretation depending on whether you are talking about marketing or the nature of reality. “Perception management” as a high concept has helped me, through the years, integrate a rich collection of thoughts on identity and the apparently faddish Web 2.0 idea of personal brands (commonly misunderstood as “You are Your Facebook Profile”). Perception management goes beyond individuals, but let’s stick to the simple case. Here is my current model.

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